Vaishnavism, the tradition in Hinduism of worshipping a set of "gods"
centering around Vishnu. The original religion of the Aryans when they
entered India is generally denoted Vedism or Brahmanism (after Brahma,
or the Brahmin caste), or Vedic Brahmanism. Vaishnavism is the
only direct decendant of this religion. In the earliest Aryan texts we find
Vishnu already rising to the status of the supreme Aryan god.
The origins of Vaishnavism lie deep in early Indo-Aryan history. "Aryan
Vaishnavism" is the term given to the Vedic religion after the
incorporation of the cults of Buddha and the Jains (though they later
diverged away from Vaishnavism/Hinduism again). These were considered
incarnations of Vishnu, and were soon absorbed into the mainstream
Vaishnavism was, with the exception of Shaivite dominated South India
(Tamil Nadu), the most important religion of the Indian continent prior to
the Islamic (moghul) conquest. Following these invasions, religion
was opressed, and many temples were demolished, while heretical, and
heterdox doctrines were enocurage. Many of these heretics supported the
Islamist desutrction of Aryan temples, thus Shaivite-Dravidian Kannada
warriors fought in the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni. While Aurangzeb
demolished scores of Arya Vishnu temples, he gave large tracts of land to
the Jains, and encouraged the emergence of Buddhism as a separate religious
Nowadays, Vaishnavism is especially widespread in Middle India (the
Deccan), where three-quarters of the population are Vaishnavite, and in
Hindustan, (Indian, north of the Deccan]), where one out of four is
Vaishnavite. In Shaivite-dominated Dravidia, only 3% are Aryan
Vaishnavite. Smaller communities of Vaishnavites exist throughout the world
(e.g. in Mauritius, and certain parts of south-east Asia).
The Scriptures of Vaishnavism include the Vedas (including the Brahmanas
and Upanishads), the smritis, the Dharmashatras, the Bhagavad
Gita, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. See Hindu Scriptures for elaboration.
The practice of Vaishnavism includes elaborate deity worship, prayer
(both personal [japa] and congregational
[kirtana]), the offering of food, the studying of
scripture, certain moral and ethical principles (in particular the doctrine
of ahimsa, or nonviolence), and the belief in the infinite
incarnations of Vishnu (q.v.)(*).
(*) Confirmed in the Puranas: Bhagavata Purana I.3,
Agni Purana II-XVI, Varaha Purana XXXIX-XLVIII.